Neck pain…it’s a pain in the well neck.
So, let’s talk about why you may experience it and what you can do to address it.
First, I’m not a doctor. I’m a random fitness professional on the internet. I cannot diagnose or treat you and this article is not medical advice. If you suspect that you have an underlying injury or condition or you experience ongoing pain, I’d suggest that you make an appointment with your doctor for evaluation and care.
Now that we’ve got that fun little disclaimer out of the way, what are a few of the usual suspects in regards to neck pain?
1. You do a lot of repetitive movement or hold the same position for long periods of time.
No, sitting isn’t going to kill you and it’s not wrecking your joints. However, the body isn’t a big fan of repetition. Beyond that, our eyes were designed to look at lots of visual stimulus near an far, so when you combine sitting or standing in one position for long periods of a time while starting at a screen, it can be why your neck doesn’t feel so hot – particularly after a long and stressful day at the computer or a long car ride.
2. You may need more upper back mobility.
Remember that thing you just read about sitting and staring at a screen? It doesn’t do great things for our upper back mobility. Turns out mobility is very use it or lose it. If you don’t move in diverse ways, then you have limited movement options, because your body is really good at adapting.
When it comes to the neck, the upper back is a key area to address, because it is the foundation for the neck and shoulders. Key takeaway? Practice diverse movements through your upper back and your neck may feel better!
3. You may need more neck and shoulder strength and control.
The other fun fact about the body is that we are only strong in the directions that we use. Again, daily life doesn’t give us many chances to practice neck and shoulder movement. As a result, we tend to lack strength and/or control through these areas. The good news is that if you develop better upper body control, your neck will often feel better. A nice side benefit to strength!
Strategies for reducing neck pain
Let’s start here. There is no one size fits all. What works for one person may not feel good or work for another and if your pain is getting worse, that’s a good time to stop googling exercises and check in with a medical professional. However, here are a few of my favorite go-tos when it comes to reducing neck tension + building upper body mobility and strength.
Want some simple ways to troubleshoot upper body tension?
Mobility drills or exercises that move your spine: I’m a big fan of upper back (also sometimes called thoracic) mobility work. This can include rotating, side bending, flexing. and extending through the upper back. There’s no “rules” here, but I do find my upper back often feels better when I introduce exercises in that order.
Upper body strength: Look, you head is like a bowling ball. You got a big old brain in there and that sucker is heavy. As I said before, your back and shoulders are the foundation for your neck, which is responsible for holding up your head, so being strong in those areas can reduce tension. The exercises that you practice don’t need to be fancy.
Simple movements found in any strength program will get the job done with the greatest hits including push-ups, rows, and lat pull downs or push-ups.
Want a simple routine that includes elements of upper back mobility and upper body strength? Join the PUSH IT REAL GOOD Free Challenge to reduce upper body tension and build arm and back strength in just a few minutes a day.
Neck control and strength drills: I know it’s counterintuitive, but sometimes our neck hurts, because it could benefit from some strength and control. Control is largely neurological and there are drills that exist specifically for the neck. The nice thing is that with control also comes strength, so a little bit of practice goes a long way!
Eye exercises: Yep! Turns out your eyes do a lot to determine the tension pattern in your neck. Train your eyes and you may notice a reduction in neck discomfort.
Foam rolling: It won’t make you stronger. It also won’t improve your mobility long term. However, for many of us, it increases body awareness, which may reduce feelings of tension or pain and help you feel your muscles during strength and stability work.
And here’s a routine to reduce neck tension, which incorporates many of these ideas!
If you have nagging neck stuff, know that you’re not broken. The body is complex, but it’s also incredibly resilient. Oftentimes, it takes finding the right mix of modalities and exercises or the right team of practitioners for things to feel better. This can be a bit of a process, but it’s worth it.
As I’ve said before, I’m not an expert, but I have been at this a while, so if you have any questions for me, please don’t hesitate to reach out via my contact page. I may not have the answers, but I’ll be happy to offer some resources that might help.